It is the newspaper, more than any other medium, which conjures up images of political power, journalistic scoops and ruthless media barons. Newspapers have made and broken politicians, changed society and amassed great wealth and influence for their owners.  It is appropriate to start this chapter with quotes as they are the stock in trade of reporting journalists – a profession invented in the 1700s to serve the emerging newspaper industry. 

“Newspapers are the fourth estate.” 

Edmund Burke (1729 to 1797)

“Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 to 1821)

“Never pick fights with people who buy their ink by the barrel.”

Mark Twain (1835 to 1910)

 Edmund Burke was a prominent British statesman in whose time the three great political “estates” which controled the country were the Church, the Nobles and the House of Commons.   During a Parliamentary debate Burke allegedly looked up at the newly created reporters’ gallery from where the journalists from the emerging newspapers watched proceedings and observed: “Yonder sits the Fourth estate – and the most important of them all”.    Napoleon was recognising the need to keep public opinion on his side despite having used military might to become the Emperor of most of Europe. And Mark Twain was acknowledging the raw political and economic power exercised by the ruthless US newspaper barons at the height of the “yellow journalism” wars.

Newspapers have historically been the most partisan of the media and have frequently been owned by people who wanted to get their own political views across. As nations moved from being monarchies to aristocracies and then to open democracies the newspapers have played a crucial role in supporting or rejecting elected politicians. As the first mass medium with huge influence they became the early battle ground for issues of moral and political censorship and the challenge of balancing editorial independence with commercial considerations.